Combustible Celluloid
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With: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Jae Head, Eddie Marsan, David Mattey, Maetrix Fitten, Thomas Lennon, Johnny Galecki
Written by: Vince Gilligan, Vincent Ngo
Directed by: Peter Berg
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language
Running Time: 92
Date: 06/16/2008

Hancock (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Less Than Hero

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Will Smith finds yet another winning character to fit his star persona, a charming ass-whooper, though this time he trades crispness for a bleary, scruffy low-life; when we first see him he wakes up on a street corner bench, hung over and with a spare bottle of hooch stashed underneath. He's "Hancock," a superhero who has been defending Los Angeles from evil for decades; before that, he can't remember anything. Lately he's grown sloppy and slapdash, drinking and haphazardly destroying city property while stopping crime. One morning, he manages to save the life of a do-gooder PR man, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman). Ray hopes to boost his own profile by getting Hancock back on his feet, prepping him for public appearances, curbing his drinking, cleaning up his debt and making him a slick, black costume. Ray's son Aaron (Jae Head) is thrilled, but his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) has reservations. Hancock could easily have turned into one of those redeemed scoundrel films, in which the good person that emerges at the end of the story is never as much fun as the horrible person that started it. But fortunately, Smith plays the character with a kind of logical through-line, rather than suddenly flipping from one side to another. The other bonus is that writers Vince Gilligan ("The X-Files") and Vincent Ngo jump right in, skipping the "origin" story, and they have a whopper of a surprise for us at about the two-third mark. The bad news is that once the whopper is revealed, the filmmakers seem to have no idea where to go. The movie forgoes comedy and invention, instead nose-diving into a serious, routine showdown. Peter Berg directs with a constant shaky-cam look, the same approach he used for his Iraq action movie The Kingdom. The shaking and jittering actually improve the special effects; we get the impression of real flight and gravity without the seams that might show in slicker, cleaner cinematography. However, the shaking and almost random cutting destroy the movie's timing and humor, though Smith is skilled enough to sneak a few laughs through, despite Berg's meddling. It's probably not one of Smith's best -- for that, see Men in Black and Hitch -- but it's a reasonable effort.

DVD Details: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment sent me their one-disc edition, which is pretty bare-bones, but perfectly fine for people on budgets. It comes with a bunch of short behind-the-scenes featurettes and a bunch of trailers. There are optional Spanish and French-language tracks, and scene selections, and an excellent 2.35:1 transfer, and that's about it. There's also a two-disc edition available. Also available on Hancock

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